Emotional Intelligence in Neurodiversity


Happy Hearts Day! Hmm, want your heart to be happy? Have a high emotional intelligence. Eh??

It’s a happy Valentines’ Day to all. Yeah it’s kinda sweet this mushy season especially if you’re with someone special. Oh, it’s quite common in neurodiversity to find a someone special. Believe me. But, like me, am six years single since my last relationship and haven’t found another one, it’s okay. Don’t fret. Don’t be jealous. Maybe for us neurodiverse people (and all people of course) we need to learn more about emotional and social intelligence before we worry about finding that special someone.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the knowledge of awareness and dealing with emotions or feelings. It is the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.[1]

Usually most people do acquire emotional intelligence as they learn to navigate the world from their childhood ie by slowly learning to control their feelings like learning to delay gratification by not whining or throwing tantrums as they get older. Or when they become adults they try to calm down when being nagged by an angry employer or lover and not just shout back and curse them unless they cause so much harm or have an emergency situation.

Now, the problem with neurodiverse people, people with learning disabilities and developmental disorders and people with extremes in intelligence, their emotional intelligence is usually less developed than most people or the typically developing people. Why is this that so? Because these people usually has atypical or not so usual brain development ie too rapid cognitive development like giftedness, errors in brain chemicals that govern the brain and its activities like in ADHD or lack of theory of mind or the ability to read other people in cases of autism spectrum disorders, these can cause less development of the emotional intelligence.

What is the implication of the lack of EQ to neurodiverse people?

The thing here is because neurodiverse people have less developed EQs, their dealing with emotions is much harder to control. Let’s give child prodigies as example. Usually parents of child prodigies just harness their children’s area of gift (usually classical music or math) and they train these kids harshly as if they’re robots that do nothing but practice all day or study without teaching them to be more aware of themselves – their strengths and weaknesses. Now prodigies do excel in their gifts, but that cannot be sustained. Why? Because these kids tend to become their own uinverse thanks to parents who want them to be always the winner and being a loser means they’re rubbish and a loser anyway, they tend to lash out when they lose or may become withdrawn and quiet, not able to deal with their own emotions. This is not good as it can result in having emotional problems later on in life.

People in neurodiversity have more problems picking up and understanding emotions but this is not due to their laziness or sort but because of the brain structure. In children in ADHD, some brain parits are actually smaller than the brains of children without ADHD. Overall rain size is generally 5% smaller in affected children than children without ADHD.[2] This means that the part of brain dealing with emotions is somewhat less developed. This makes children with ADHD less attuned with their own feelings and just blurt out hurtful words or become too emotional that is not appropriate for their age ie a middle schooler throwing tantrums and behaving like a 2-year-old.


Image courtesy of quotesgram.com. Oh! this dog is too cranky. People with lower EQ have much more tendency to be cranky all of the time especially when they can’t get  what they want.

What are the complications of having a low EQ?

Psychological problems may arise from not being aware of their feelings. they may become more obsessed with numbing their emotions by having a vice (illegal drugs, casual sex)  or become more dependent too other people (as security blanket – hmm I’m guilty of this as I used my mom as my security blanket to hide my emotional inadequacy). Also, by not being aware of your emotions, you’ll also never to learn to be aware and support other people’s feelings. You become more selfish and childish in your ways just trying to consider only yourself not other people. That is so bad. People will get avoid and dislike you, which si the reason why a lot of neurodiverse people are single or have turbulent relationship history.

Not good right? Now, what are the characteristics of people with high emotional intelligence and how neurodiverse people can learn from them?

Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, developed a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence[3]:

  1. Self-Awareness – People with high EI are usually very self-aware . They understand their emotions, and because of this, they don’t let their feelings rule them. They’re confident – because they trust their intuition and don’t let their emotions get out of control.[4]
  2. Self-Regulation – This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate typically don’t allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don’t make impulsive, careless decisions. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change,integrity , and the ability to say no.[4]
  3. Motivation – People with a high degree of EI are usually motivated . They’re willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They’re highly productive, love a challenge, and are very effective in whatever they do.[4]
  4. Empathy – This is perhaps the second-most important element of EI. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships , listening , and relating to others. They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way.[4]
  5. Social Skills – It’s usually easy to talk to and like people with good social skills, another sign of high EI. Those with strong social skills are typically team players. Rather than focus on their own success first, they help others develop and shine. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.[4]

All these five are needed in order to have a high emotional intelligence. Easier read than applied, right? Especially if you have a learning disability right?

Yes. That’s only a part, but trust me, all people do have to learn how to have emotional intelligence. In short everybody. But also we need also EQ, needed it more than IQ in order to be more satisfied in life and in ourselves.

How to increase your EQ?

Awareness and acceptance are the key elements in developing your EQ. To develop your EQ you just first be aware of what are you feeling. Note your emotional reactions to events throughout the day. It’s easy to put your feelings about what you experience throughout the day on the back burner. But taking time to acknowledge how you feel about experiences is essential to improving your EQ.[5]

Pay attention to your body. Instead of ignoring the physical manifestations of your emotions, start listening to them. Our minds and bodies are not separate; they affect each other quite deeply.[5]

Wikihow gives some examples of feelings with physical signs[5]:

Stress might feel like a knot in your stomach, tight chest, or quick breathing.
Sadness might feel like waking up with slow, heavy limbs.
Joy or pleasure might feel like butterflies, your stomach, a racing heart or increased energy.

Observe how your emotions and behavior are connected.[5] For example when you see your crush, what do you do, do you hide? Become speechless and run away? Or when you’re angry, you throw things like I used to do. This is very important especially for people who can’t fully express themselves verbally (autism, expressive language disorders and the like) as behavior can make or break in dealing with other people. Especially if a person behaves destructively. She can hurt herself as well as other people. This can cause social isolation and can lead to more severe psychological problems like depression.

And accept your feelings wholeheartedly. No judging. Even if you feel ashamed (I’m still guilty of this but am trying to fight it). Feel it. Accept your feelings as your own. But please don’t wallow on them.

Practice deciding how to behave. You can’t help what emotions you feel, but you can decide how you want to react to them. If you have an issue with lashing out in anger or shutting down when you’re hurt, think about how you’d rather react.[5] It’s actually hard. Promise, but really practice makes perfect. And when you fail to do, don’t punish yourself. Don’t also use escapist behaviors like binge eating/drinking, compulsive gambling etc.

More tips[5]:

Be open-minded and agreeable. Consider other people’s point of view. Not just me, myself and I. That’s emotional immaturity.

Improve your empathy skills. Instead of just pitying another person who has problems, imagine yourself in that situation that person has as if it’s your own. Very hard because you have Asperger’s? Yeah hard, but you must. Now when you imagine that you have that problem, it’s much easier for you to understand and support your loved one in trial.

Read people’s body language. How? Observe how people act and they say and compare them to see if there’s any discrepancy. Hard? Literally study people as if they’re academic subjects. Also you can watch your favorite television show and observe how characters behave.Here you’ll learn about body language and you can compare a sincere person or not.

Practice being emotionally honest. Don’t ever lie about your feelings like telling “I’m fine” but in fact you’re cranky. That’ll lower your EQ and you are being dishonest to yourself and other people.

See where you have room for improvement. Being intellectually capable is important in life, but being emotionally intelligent is just as essential. Having high emotional intelligence can lead to better relationships and job opportunities.

Be more light-hearted at home and at work. When you’re optimistic, it’s easier to see the beauty in life and everyday objects and spread that feeling to those around you. Practice this everyday and poof all people will be drawn to you. Be negative and people will avoid you for good.

Hope this will help all of us here, whether neurodiverse or neurotypical. Maybe that special someone will come to you and have a sweeter Valentine’s day or even if not, at least you’ll become more content with your emotions and life as well.♡


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence
  2. http://www.additudemag.com/adhd-web/article/5008.html
  3. http://www.danielgoleman.info/topics/emotional-intelligence/
  4. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_59.htm
  5. http://m.wikihow.com/Develop-Emotional-Intelligence

Intellectual Disability

Image courtesy of intellectualdisability.info

Image courtesy of intellectualdisability.info

Some people are born smart – the ones who invented computers and discovered planets. Most of us however are born average. We just need to struggle a little in studies just to get modest grades at school. Others are born with alternate learning styles that needs special education. But there are people born to have very slow or little learning capacity. These are usually the people we laugh at or ridicule because of their mental capacity. This condition they have is called intellectual disability.

What is intellectual disability?

Intellectual disability (ID) is a disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills.[1] This is once called mental retardation (MR) and is characterized by below-average intelligence or mental ability and a lack of skills necessary for day-to-day living. People with intellectual disabilities can and do learn new skills, but they learn them more slowly. There are varying degrees of intellectual disability, from mild to profound.[2] This condition was also previously called feeble-mindedness. Here the person with intellectual capacity has two problem areas:

Someone with intellectual disability has limitations in two areas. These areas are[2]:

Intellectual functioning. Also known as IQ, this refers to a person’s ability to learn, reason, make decisions, and solve problems. (Below average 70-99, Average IQ is 100, Above average 101-114, Mildly gifted 115-129, Moderately gifted 130-149, Highly gifted 150-169, Profoundly gifted 170+)
Adaptive behaviors. These are skills necessary for day-to-day life, such as being able to communicate effectively, interact with others, and take care of oneself.

This means an intellectually disabled person has difficulties in learning and comprehending complex ideas and decision making as well as taking care of oneself. Intellectual disability is the opposite of giftedness. The intellectually disabled person has lower IQ and has poor adaptive skills.

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Image courtesy of Pinterest

What causes intellectual disability?

Generally there is no known cause for intellectual disability although genetic disorders may contribute. Down syndrome, velocariofacial syndrome, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are the three most common inborn causes.[3][4] Klinefelter’s syndrome, Fragile X syndrome (common among boys), neurofibromatosis, congenital hypothyroidism, Williams syndrome, phenylketonuria (PKU), and Prader-Willi syndrome. Other genetic conditions include Phelan-McDermid syndrome (22q13del), Mowat-Wilson syndrome, genetic ciliopathy[5], and Siderius type X-linked intellectual disability are some of the common genetic disorders that may attribute to intellectual disability. Also mutations in chromosomes (human blueprint) can also cause intellectual disability.

Problems during pregnancy or during birth when either the fetus did not develop properly or did have trauma during birth. For example, there may be a problem with the way the fetus’ cells divide as it grows. A pregnant person who drinks alcohol (see fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) or gets an infection like rubella during pregnancy may also have a baby with intellectual disability.[3] If a baby has problems during labor and birth, such as not getting enough oxygen, he or she may have developmental disability due to brain damage.[3]

Exposure to certain types of disease that are not treated right away (whooping cough, measles or meningitis) or toxins (mercury, lead) can cause intellectual disability as well.

Other causes include iodine deficiency, malnutrition and absence of nerves called arcuate fasciculus[3][6] where it connects temporal and parietal lobes to the frontal lobe.

Image courtesy of quotesgram.com

Image courtesy of quotesgram.com

What are the symptoms of intellectual disability?

The signs and symptoms of intellectual disability are all behavioral. Most people with intellectual disability do not look like they are afflicted with such.[3] Children with intellectual disability may learn to sit up, to crawl, or to walk later than other children, or they may learn to talk later.[3][4] The symptoms are as follows[3][4]:

Delays in oral language development
Deficits in memory skills
Difficulty learning social rules
Difficulty with problem solving skills
Delays in the development of adaptive behaviors such as self-help or self-care skills
Lack of social inhibitors

Intellectual disability has also types according to severity. A person with intellectual disability has an IQ of below 70 downward. The following are the types of ID:

Mild intellectual disability (IQ 50–69)[3]
The mildest of ID. This may not be obvious in early childhood, and may not be identified until children begin school.[4] This may also be hard to differentiate with most learning disabilities and it takes a very skillful assessmemt to diagnose mild ID from learning disabilities (people with learning disabilities can have high IQs). People with mild intellectual disability are capable of learning reading and mathematics skills to approximately the level of a typical child aged nine to twelve.[4] They can learn basic life skills and may gain some employment in adulthood.

Moderate intellectual disability (IQ 35–49)[3]
This is early always apparent within the first years of life. Speech delays are particularly common signs of moderate ID[4] nevertheless speech delay isn’t only the hallmark sign of moderate ID as speech delays can also be common among children with higher IQs. They need considerable supports in school, at home, and in the community in order to participate fully. While their academic potential is limited, they can learn simple health and safety skills and to participate in simple activities.[4] Usually people with moderate IDs live in support group homes or sheltered workshops when they become adults.

Severe or profound intellectual disability (IQ 34 below)[3]
The most severe type of ID where they need more intensive support and supervision their entire lives.[5] They may learn some basic life skills (bathing, brushing) but they need supervision by caregivers. They usually live in nursing homes when they become adults.

Image courtesy of quotesgram.com

Image courtesy of quotesgram.com

How is intellectual disability diagnosed?

Tests and assessment by a developmental paediatrician is a way to diagnose intellectual disability. Assessmemt by a school guidance counsellor can also do this.

Developmental tests are often used to assess the child[7]:

Abnormal Denver developmental screening test
Adaptive Behavior score below average
Development way below that of peers
Intelligence quotient (IQ) score below 70 on a standardized IQ test

Also, ID is a condition present already as early as infancy. This condition is one of serveral developmental disabilities—that is, there is evidence of the disability during the developmental period, which in the US is operationalized as before the age of 18.[8]

That is a must in diagnosing ID to differentiate it from dementia – a neurodegenerative disorder characterised by deterioration of cognitive function and its onset must be in adulthood (18 or 16 above).

How is intellectual disability managed?

Currently, there is no “cure” for an established disability, though with appropriate support and teaching, most individuals can learn to do many things.[3]

A combination of proper assessment, special education and family and community support is a strategy for intellectual disability.

Referral to an early intervention program during infancy may prevent or decrease the severity of disability resulting from a perinatal insult. Realistic methods of caring for affected children must be established.[9] As soon as ID is confirmed or strongly suspected, the parents should be informed and given ample time to discuss causes, effects, prognosis, education and training of the child, and the importance of balancing known prognostic risks against negative self-fulfilling prophecies in which diminished expectations result in poor functional outcomes later in life. Sensitive ongoing counseling is essential for family adaptation. [9]

A multidisciplinary team can help in managing a child with intellectual disability[9]:

Neurologists or developmental-behavioral pediatricians


Physical therapists and occupational therapists (who assist in managing comorbidities in children with motor deficits)

Speech pathologists and audiologists (who help with language delays or with suspected hearing loss)

Nutritionists (who help with treatment of undernutrition)

Social workers (who help reduce environmental deprivation and identify key resources)

Although there is no specific medication for intellectual disability, many people with developmental disabilities have further medical complications and may be prescribed several medications.[3] Usually children and adults with intellectual disability have other comorbid conditions like depression, anxiety and phobias and intellectual disabilities can co-exist with other developmental disabilities like autism and genetic disorders such as Down syndrome. These comorbidities are given medication for such combined with coping strategies for intellectual disability.

Though there is generally no cure for ID, the ultimate goal for therapy is independence for mild ID and support and survival for the moderate to severe ID. Through this their dignities as humans are maintained.

How common is intellectual disability?

Intellectual disability affects about 2–3% of the general population. 75–90% of the affected people have mild intellectual disability.[3] A quarter of people with ID have a comorbid genetic or other neurodiverse disorder. Both males and females can have ID.

Intellectual disability is one of the most profound of all developmental or neurodiverse disabilities a human brain can have. This possess challenges to the individual as well as the family and community. Nevertheless people with ID are still humans who long to be loved and accepted. Instead of bullying and ridicule love and support is needed for people with ID in order for them to live to the fullest. Who knows, many of them have big talents and big hearts – even bigger than most of us.

1. http://aaidd.org/intellectual-disability/definition#.VhoOT86wq2c
2. http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/intellectual-disability-mental-retardation
3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_disability
4. Daily DK, Ardinger HH, Holmes GE (February 2000). “Identification and evaluation of mental retardation”. Am Fam Physician 61 (4): 1059–67, 1070. PMID 10706158
5. Badano, Jose L.; Norimasa Mitsuma; Phil L. Beales; Nicholas Katsanis (September 2006). “The Ciliopathies : An Emerging Class of Human Genetic Disorders”. Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics 7: 125–148. doi:10.1146/annurev.genom.7.080505.115610. PMID 16722803. Retrieved 2008-06-15.
6. Sundaram SK, Sivaswamy L, Makki MI, Behen ME, Chugani H (2008). “Absence of arcuate fasciculus in children with global developmental delay of unknown etiology: a diffusion tensor imaging study”. J Pediatr 152 (2): 250–5. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2007.06.037. PMID 18206698.
7. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001523.htm
8. http://aaidd.org/intellectual-disability/definition#.Vht10M6wq2c
9. http://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/learning-and-developmental-disorders/intellectual-disability-id

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